The first sheet of the scroll includes a prefatory panel with several narrative scenes from the Book of Esther and 3 columns of the text (nos. 1-3).
The prefatory panel: The scroll opens with a panel containing several illustrations from the Esther story. The upper part is divided into three scenes. In the center King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther are depicted; they sit together on the throne and on its pedestal a Hebrew inscription כשבת המלך (“as the king was sitting”) is visible. The royal couple is accompanied by courtiers; on the left, there is a group of men who can be the king's advisers or princes of Media and Persia, while on the right, there is a group of women who are the maidens of Esther. Below, in a rectangular panel, Queen Esther is shown seated on a throne surrounded by plant ornaments, lions, birds, heads of angels, and the Hebrew words ברכת מגילה birkat megillah (“blessings for the [reading of] Megillah”). The middle register consists of three rectangular frames: in the central frame are printed three initial benedictions, in the panel on the right are shown king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, hanged on two gallows (Es. 2:23), and in the panel on the left is depicted Haman and his sons hanged on three gallows (Es. 7:10, Es. 9:14, or Es. 9:25). Below there are three other episodes from the Book of Esther (from right to left): Queen Esther and Mordecai write letters instructing the Jews to observe Purim (Es. 9:29), Haman leads Mordecai through the streets of Susa (Es. 6:11), and possibly Mordecai tearing his clothes as a sign of mourning (Es. 4:1).
Text column no. 1: The upper part of the first text panel is decorated with elaborated acanthus leaves flanking a bust of a king (possibly Ahasuerus). Below, inside the text panel, there is the decorative word ויהי - "it happened". In the horizontal components of these four letters, an inscription by the engraver is placed:
נייטרא יעא נעשה ונומר בשנת
- "Mordecai sofer stam [an expert religious scribe] of the holy community of Nitra made it in the year 594 [=1834] according to the small counting".
Below the text column, in the rectangular frame, the fest of the king is depicted. It shows an oval table with a number of men at it and servants serving dishes.
Text column no. 2: In the lower-left corner of the column, the moment of death of Queen Vashti is depicted. The queen is kneeling between two women who strangulate her with a scarf. The scene is related to the extra-biblical tales saying that Vashti was killed after she refused to appear in front of the king during the feast. Most likely, the engraver was inspired by a similar illustration incorporated in the Amsterdam printed scrolls of the early 18th century that in the Index are called "the scrolls with portrait medallions" and "the scrolls with landscapes"; however, the direct source for this representation remains unknown.
Text column no. 3: In the lower-left corner of the column, the moment of the wedding of Ahasuerus and Esther is depicted. The royal couple stands in front of a man whose garments resemble the clothing of the high priest. Most likely, the engraver was inspired by a similar illustration incorporated in the Amsterdam printed scrolls of the early 18th century representing two groups that in the Index are called "the scrolls with portrait medallions" and "the scrolls with landscapes"; it seems that their creators were familiar with similar representations present in European art that are paintings showing the scene of the marriage of Mary and Joseph.
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Haman hanged (Es. 7:10)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Haman's sons hanged (Es. 9:14)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai in mourning (Es. 4:1)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai's triumph (Es. 6:11)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Seven maidens given to Esther (Es. 2:9)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | *Esther's Story Characters (depicted not in narrative scenes): | Ahasuerus and Esther, enthroned
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | *Esther's Story Characters (depicted not in narrative scenes): | Esther, the queen
L | Lion | Lion rampant
H | Heraldic composition | Supporters | Two birds
A | Angel of Death | Angel's head
A | Acanthus Leaf
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus and the seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:13-15)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' banquet (Es. 1:3-8)
O | Ornamentation: | Decorated letters in spared ground technique
P | Portrait | Portrait medallion
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Execution of Vashti - strangulation
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' and Esther's wedding
The scroll is preserved in very good condition.
The Book of Esther in Hebrew with the initial benedictions
The scroll consists of 3 sheets on which 10 text columns are printed.
The initial word of the scroll is formed of decorative letters in which a Hebrew inscription of the engraver is incorporated.
Col. 8 is printed in 11 lines divided into two half-columns. It contains enlarged and diminished letters.
The letters ח (Es. 1:6), ת (Es. 9:29), and the letters of the name of God are enlarged.
The sheets in the scroll are glued together.
The colophon of the artist in Hebrew is placed below the last text column. The oval field is framed by pinned curtains topped by a crown, while its lower part is surrounded by acanthus leaves. The inscription bears the name of the artist (Mordecai sofer stam) ben Jozl Sofer), the date (1834), and the place (Nitra). The same details are included in another note from the artist that is included in the horizontal components of the first word in the Megillah formed of enlarged letters.
ידעתי גם ידעתי כי אנכי עפר ואפר יי אות לאיש במוני להחפר כי מי אני לעשות לי שם בשם חכם ו וסופר רק היינו טעמא דמגילה והיינו טעמא דסופר להיות הקוק ב בעט ברזל על הנחשת לזכרון לחבצלת השרון אשר ידי תיכון אף זרועי תאמצני וימיני תסעדני בעזר האל אשר עזרני ב''ד מרדכי סופר ס'ת'ם במוה' יוזל סופר ס'ת'ם זצול בש' תקצד לפק פה נייטרא מרדכי סופר סתם מקק נייטרא יעא נעשה ונומר בשנת תקצד ל'פ'ק
Another scroll representing the same pattern: MZSL XXIV-M-16 (64.1226), Jewish Museum and Archives, Budapest.
Selected bibliography on other works by Mordecai Sofer of Nitra (Marcus Donath):
Zsuzsanna Toronyi, Héber betűk. Dokumentumok a Magyar Zsidó Levéltárból, Budapest 2012, 35.
Zsuzsanna Toronyi, Markus Donath / Mordecai Sofer Stam of Nitra, [in:] Emile, Schrijver Eds. Windows on Jewish Worlds. Essays in Honor of William Gross, Collector of Judaica, Amsterdam 2019, 246-271.
Ernő Naményi, „Ein ungarisch-jüdischer Kupferstecher der Biedermeierzeit (Markus Donath)”, [in:] Jubilee-Volume in Honour of Prof. Bernhard Heller, ed. A. Schreiber, Budapest 1941, 252‒257.
Alexander Scheiber, „Markus Donath’s Second Misrah-plate”, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 1973-1974, no. 10, 80–82.
Alexander Scheiber, „Marcus Donath’s Mohel Book”, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 1979, no. 12, 9–11.
Irina Wandrey, “Codex Levy 45”, Manuscript Cultures 2014, no. 6, 275–279.
Lot 198: A Hungarian Jewel-set Silver-gilt Miniature Torah Crown and Shield, Sotheby's A Treasured Legacy: The Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection. New York 29 April 2013 available on https://www.sothebys.com (accessed on 22.03.2020).